On the bleeding edge of videoconferencing

Yesterday, I appeared on video a National Symposium to be held by the Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society in Adelaide (details here and program (PDF) here).

Unlike previous videoconferences I’ve done for smaller seminars (audience up to 30 who can fit into a dedicated venue) presenting to a big event like this posed lots of difficulties, though most were satisfactorily resolved at the end. After initially giving assurances that they could handle a videoconference, the venue advised that they didn’t have an ISDN line, or any adequate alternative, and that installing a line would cost thousands of dollars. We looked at various computer-based options, but eventually decided that we would be unlikely to get sufficient reliability and video quality that way, so I stepped back from the frontier and made a DVD of my presentation which I mailed to Adelaide. Even that fairly low-tech approach created some problems, as playback of computer-burned DVDs turns out not to be 100 per cent reliable. There was a scramble to find a setup that would play the DVD, but it all went well in the end.

The plan was to take questions by audioconference, and this was incorporated in a panel discussion where questions were addressed to several speakers. The organisation on this point was a bit ad hoc, and the sound quality was very poor. Fortunately, perhaps, the format only allowed for one or two questions per speaker.

A benefit of going this way is that it’s reasonably easy to make a podcast. Unfortunately, my slide design, which works fine on standard projection equipment, and seems to have gone OK in the DVD, is very hard to read in a small movie format. Even with this poky format, 30 minutes of video turns out to be too big to upload. I’ll have to split it into parts. I’ve attached the presentation for the moment, but even that is 8.3MB..

Overall, my experience here is an indication of some of the kinds of adjustments that need to be made if videopresence is going to replace air travel on a large scale. None of them are huge in themselves, but they reflect the marginal status of this option When the problems are overcome, the advantages, such as the permanent availability and reusability of the video and podcast will be substantial, but at the moment, it’s still on the bleeding edge.

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Spin and silence

Glenn Greenwald reports that the story of secret Pentagon efforts to set up a group of supposedly independent military experts, who then ran the Administration line on network TV, detailed in the New York Times a month ago, has made the standard transition from “we don’t illegally manipulate the news” to “of course we did that, why are you still making a fuss about this old story“.

No news, or even meta-news there. What’s really striking is that, as far as I can tell, none of the TV networks implicated in the story have reported it on-air in any way, and most have made no response at all (with the exception of CNN, none responded substantively to questions from the NY Times, and I haven’t seen anything since). And with the story now in the old news category, they have clearly succeeding in keeping it from their viewers, with the exception of assiduous readers of the NYTimes or blogs. Apparently, if it isn’t on TV, it didn’t happen. And of course, if it is on TV, it probably didn’t happen either, at least not the way we get to see it.

Climate, Water and Adaptive Responses

Getting back to serious business, that’s the title of a National Symposium to be held by the Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society in Adelaide tomorrow and Friday (details here and program (PDF) here).

I’ll be appearing, but not in person. As discussed previously, I tried to arrange a videoconference, but that didn’t work, so I went instead for a prerecorded video appearance, which will be followed a bit later by a panel discussion in which I’ll take part by audioconference. I’m arranging to have the video turned into a podcast and will post this, along with my presentation, for anyone interested.
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As I’ve said in the past, I’m tired of stoushes with global warming delusionists, and of blogwars more generally. I’ve adopted a policy of banning/deleting trolls here, and, as far as possible, ignoring them elsewhere. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel I could ignore Graham Young’s attack on me, Robyn Williams, Tim Lambert and others in Online Opinion of which he is Chief Editor. OLO has made a valuable contribution to Australian public debate, and has a well-justified reputation for serious discussion (despite Young’s propensity for publishing silly anti-science pieces on climate change). That reputation will be trashed if it becomes a platform for intemperate and partisan rants (violations of Godwin’s Law are a pretty good indication of this, in my view).

I did write to Young to attempt a resolution, and sent him a lot of links and documents trying to explain why (contrary to his claims) I thought it was appropriate to report Fred Singer’s close involvement with the tobacco industry, and its relationship to his role in the global warming debate (prominent now, but even more so in the 1990s when he and Fred Seitz got the organised delusionist movement going with the Leipzig Declaration and Oregon Petition)[1][2]. However, apart from the offer of a reply (if I want to say that I’m not a brownshirt, I can do so here in much less than 800 words, and have done), he wasn’t interested.

At this point, I’m going to let the documents speak for themselves. Over the fold, I’ve linked and quoted an article from the American Journal of Public Health, and two (of many) documents from tobacco company archives, released as part of a settlement of litigation against them by US state governments. If any readers feel that I’ve been unfairly selective here, I invite you, as I did Graham, to Google “Fred Singer” + tobacco, or search the archives yourself.

That’s it from me on this. If readers’ comments indicate general agreement that I’ve unfairly traduced Singer’s reputation, I’ll retract. Perhaps, if the evidence appears convincing to most, Young might respond appropriately.

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New book on uncertainty

Sorry for putting up a second plug in a few days, but it seems as if, after the usual delays, quite a few things of mine are coming out that might be of broader interest than most of my academic work. I’m a contributor to a new book, Uncertainty and Risk: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, edited by Gabrielle Bammer and Mike Smithson. It’s discussed in this piece on the ABC website, which talks about Rumsfeld and ‘unknown unknowns’, a topic I’ve talked about before (here at Crooked Timber and here on this blog).

There’s lots of interesting views of uncertainty, in all sorts of fields, from statistics to jazz. You can watch a slowTV video (parts 1 and 2) or hear a more complete podcast of the book launch, with a public lecture on uncertainty and intelligence (in the CIA sense) by Michael Wesley.

One thing that is, unfortunately, certain is that the price of the book will be far too high for all but the keenest readers, so you’ll probably have to wait for it to reach the library if you want to read it – there’s not even “Search Inside” on Amazon.

"Uncertainty and Risk: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (The Earthscan Risk in Society Series)" (Earthscan Publications Ltd.)

You can, however, get 15 per cent off the UK price (save ten quid!) with this flyer

updateHere’s an extended ‘teaser‘ (4.4 Mb) with TOC and one chapter. More to come at the website of the book.

Burma appeal final

I’ve just sent off my donation to the Burma appeal. I’m reposting the final tally drawn up by James at Club Troppo. We never quite worked out which site gave most, but I’m happy to declare it a glorious tie. Thanks again to everyone who helped.

Burma summary

Many thanks to the readers who responded to our joint Burma campaign with John Quiggin by donating to aid agencies assisting the victims of Cyclone Nargis. They include:

Dylan Nicholson (100), John Warburton (100), Kim Weatherall (150), Stephen Luntz (350), Robert Merkel (100), Laura (50), Declan Kuch (50), Andrew Bennetts (200), S. Obeyesekere (100), Kj (90), Simon Rumble (100), Jed (100), Nicole Milazzo (90), Titus (200), Lindsay Jones (100), Michael D (50), Michael Stanley (100), Jack Strocchi (50), Penguinunearthed (200), Ian Gould (100), Julian Quennell (100), anon (50), Joe (250), Mark Lilywhite (200), Dan Woods (70), Cathy (50), Susan Hogan (100), Helen Smart (100), NPOV (100), Joe D (50), CFQ (100), an anonymous donor (100), and a bloke from Eudlo (200).There was also a very generous donation from Courtney and Adam, whose amount they requested not be disclosed.

Of the above, John and I reckon $4280 to be documented or as good as documented. Club Troppo writers and affiliates will match this at fifty cents to the dollar, as promised. These include: Geoff Honnor, Jim Belshaw, Legal Eagle, Patrick Fitzgerald, Margaret Farrell, Saint, Patrick Garson, Ingolf Eide, Nicholas Gruen, Ken Parish and myself.

John is paying an additional fifty cents, that is, $2,140 from his own funds.

The total raised from the effort is thus $8,560.

Arabella Imhoff informs me that she and some friends raised $1750 for a group operating Burma. John was notified of some other large donations too, and although we weren’t able to include these amounts in the total matched, we are happy to acknowledge them.

Congratulations all round. At this stage We’ll just have to hope that the money gets through. If not, the agencies in question presumably will put it to good use somewhere. I’ll try to update on this later in the week.

Godwin quinella

Just about everybody these days knows about Godwin’s Law, and its standard corollary, that the first person to introduce an allusion to the Nazis into an Internet debate automatically loses. Not, it would seem, Graham Young, chief editor of Online Opinion. In the course of an article denouncing the ABC’s Robyn Williams, he takes a sideswipe at me, calling me a brownshirt. Not content with his automatic loss, he goes for the quinella in this companion post, accusing Williams of being a communist.[1] Bizarrely, Young admits in comments that this allegation (now widely reproduced on the Internet) is untrue, but does not bother to correct the post, let along apologise.

The cause of all this: making some critical observations about various global warming “skeptics”. Young doesn’t (and can’t) deny the truth of these observations, which I suppose is why he feels the need to crank up his rhetoric to the point of this spectacular double Godwin with pike. Rather he complains that pointing such facts out is “not nice”.

I’ll be back with more on this later, I expect, but for the moment I’ll settle for the automatic win.

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